Practice and preparation

25 May 2020: Write a brief summary in your research journal which considers and consolidates your own photographic practice in the context of the following Informing Contexts Learning Outcomes:

Technical and Visual Skills: Demonstrate an awareness of a range of photographic and image-making processes, and display accomplishment of photographic skills relevant to your practice specialism.

The technical skills used in creating memento vivere- the use of high angle single light which creates chiaroscuro- are quite different than my previous work. I studied the paintings of Dutch Masters to decode the lighting and the arrangement of the objects in still life.  I then checked my attempts against the work of contemporary photographers who create work of a similar genre, such as Paulette Tavormina.  As the images in my series progress, my technique improves, and the results are more subtle; I believe that my project demonstrates accomplishment of my original goals: To create painter-like still-life images inspired by the work of the Dutch Masters.

Visual Communication and Decision-Making: Exercise discernment in the making, resolution and presentation of practical work, and an ability to communicate ideas through creative visual strategies.

Making and resolution of practical work:  I had a style in mind when I created this work: I wanted a painterly appearance with interesting and balanced compositions. I employed the classic triangular composition technique, which had often been used during the 1600s. I also styled the scenes—meaning having an awareness of shapes, colors and symbols.   The creative visual strategies I am presenting this work in two ways: One is a zine-type publication, and the second is a PDF of the images place on the same format.  I considered options for this, for example, I could have created a rotating gallery in my portfolio, but the work is big, and I would like more space around the images.  Another option would be using an alternative process to print, like gum bichromate.  This would be pretty, but the process flattens the appearance of the image, which, at this time, I do not desire.

Critical Contextualisation of Practice: Apply a critical awareness of the diversity of contemporary photographic practice to the development of your own work, and inform your practice through historical, philosophical, ethical, and economic contextualization.

Contemporary photographic practice: The creation of “painterly” photographic images has become popular: how-to courses are available in the self-learning platform CreativeLive, on YouTube, and through purchase with commercial artists such as Gemmy Woud-Bennedijk. However, it’s interesting to note that this niche does not appear among the winning work in contemporary photo contests. I researched modern and historic art to inform my own work. I desired the lighting and composition perfection demonstrated by 15th and 16th century painters, such as Juan Cortez Cotan and Jan Davidsz de Heem. Ethical context: While creating my project with my chickens and duck friends, I considered the rights of these animals. I wondered if they felt stressed or uncomfortable being thrust in the house as props. And why humans love cute animals—the fluffy, fuzzy, or furry- Yet humans often eat the same animals that they adore. The second set of images in my project explores the ethical principles of beneficence vs maleficence.

Professional Location of Practice: Establish an understanding of the range of professional contexts for the dissemination and consumption of contemporary photographic practice and identify opportunities to engage with audiences and markets.
My work could be commercialized in three different ways: These images could be reproduced on greeting cards and sold online or in local shops. These images could be reproduced in a small photobook and self-published through Amazon or could be displayed in a gallery show. Niche magazines, such as Farm Life or Mother Earth may also be interested in publishing.

Critical Analysis: Make personal observations and form critical opinions to analyze and appraise your own work, as well as the work of your peers and other practitioners.

Critical analysis of my work: I produced a series of images which strongly relate to each other: Similar single-source lighting, theme, and construct. There was some risk of becoming repetitive, but I think that the series supports the twelve images. What I think works about the images is the saturated colors and deep shadows cause by the single light and low shutter speed. These images are visually appealing.  While my intention was to create versions of the Memento mori paintings (which remind people of the fragility of life) which could remind people that life is now.  The live animals were meant to convey vitality, however, as they were frozen in the image via camera shutter, the animals seemed no different than taxidermy.
What I could improve: This body of work seems a bit repetitive- same camera angle, same color tones. Taking some closer shots and images from low or hang angles would add spark.

Written and Oral Communication Skills: Articulate ideas in a range of formats and contexts and be able to communicate with different audiences.

This course is set up in such a way that, within a term, students can articulate ideas through remote video meetings, observations written in the CRJ, posts and projects. What I would like to improve upon is my ability to articulate what I am doing and why earlier in the project cycle. While I can now articulate better my most recent project, I developed in via gut feeling and then had to bumble through the why.  I think that I can improve by thinking about the “why” of my next project earlier.

Composites from the time of COVID19

7 April 2020

Work published in Issue 01 of Quarantzine: Click Here

Check out my Zine, Egg

24 March 2020
Egg features all these awesome COVID-19 related illustrations in a super awesome Zine format. Why Zine? Hey, why not… and it is a bit more fun than using a copier : )

We are experiencing a pandemic of epic proportions. Life has changed for all people- from the self-quarantine to the run on toilet paper. Viruses are particularly repulsive in that they attack cells and inject viral DNA- turning the cell into a breeding ground of the virus (ick). Viruses are also beautiful in an organic, almost flower-like way. Seeing the global spread in real-time, or near- real time was scary, and as a healthcare worker, I was very worried about how we would take care of all the sick people if the virus continued to spread unchecked. I was more concerned that the government was not moving fast enough to prevent the spread of the disease, and most concerned about people who didn’t think that this pandemic was a big deal. My images change over time as my feelings toward the pandemic changed. My first composite image is below, when I felt like the pandemic was going spread with the force of an atomic bomb. My last images were more hopeful as the strategy to best manage COVID19 developed. The big wave of sick patients which was predicted for my area did not occur, and, as a healthcare professional, I feel more confident about our future.

21 May 2020
Coronavirus capers:

Memento vivere

Remember to live.

15 May 2020: Final images from my project, Memento vivere.

For an account of the emergence of this project, see below:

2 February, 2020

This body of work represents the images which I will use in the work in progress. These images are inspired by the still of the Dutch, Flemish and Spanish still life painter of the 17th century. For the first set of six images, I created still life with live (instead of dead or cooked as traditional) poultry to suggested life can exist in still life. The second set of images explores the idea that humans can feel enormous compassion for poultry, yet still eat them.

Claesz, P. (1623). The Turkey.

In the early part of the 17th Century, Northern European values and culture were changing secondary to the Great Reformation. Though the population had been decimated by decades of the plague, inexpensive foodstuffs and budding economy revived the arts. As religious symbolism had been eradicated from the arts, Flemish and Dutch artists embraced still life for ” the forms potential for allegorical meanings and moralizing messages” (Petry, 2013).

Jan Davidsz de Heem. 1630 ? Vanitas.

For example, in de Heem’s Vanitas above, the coin on the bottom middle and the wine glass symbolize gambling and moral excess. The skull and extinguished candle symbolize death, meant as a warning for those who might stray. The Turkey is another example of a vanitas: the objects displayed on the table demonstrate wealth, while fruits, vegetables and meat remind the viewer of the inevitability of decay and death (Petry, 2013).

The idea that life is occurring now, in this moment, is much more appealing to me than the reminder of impending loss of life. I am adopting the use of momento vivere, a Latin term which translates to approximately “remember to live” as the basis for my current project. The quote from the Bible, below, captures how I feel about paying attention to what is here and now. Everyday, I go to work, I check my email, I eat, I talk to my husband, I see my animals, then go to bed. The only thing new under the sun is now:

  • “5. The sun rises, the sun sets; then it speeds to its place and rises there.
    6. The wind blows south,then it turns north;the wind blows all around and keeps returning to its rounds.
    7. All the rivers flow to the sea,yet the sea is not full;to the place where the rivers flow,there they keep on flowing.
    8. Everything is wearisome,more than one can express;the eye is not satisfied with seeing,the ear not filled up with hearing.
    9. What has been is what will be,what has been done is what will be done,and there is nothing new under the sun.”
    Ecclesiastes 1: 5-9.

And what does NOW look like? I am going to experiment with creating the idea that a still life can contain life.
My objective: Employing the lighting and classical arrangements of the 17th century, I will create images to remind people that they are alive. I will substitute the dead (decaying, cooking, hanging) animals with real live poultry.

9 February, 2020

I created two scenes this weekend, one inspired by the Dutch painter, Peiter Claesz, and the other was more of a free-form still life. I used Peiter Claesz’ work to recreate the scene he painted in Turkey Pie (1623). I used objects I already had at home for the scene, and took a trip to the grocery store to obtain reasonable substitutes for the food he includes in this painting. I was excited to try using my new flat LED lamp by NEEWER, and a soft box which is made for this model. When I had styled the shot, my husband brought in Sophie, a very docile hen who would add life to the still life. She was great– very calm and didn’t seem to be bothered. I shot about 400 frames from many angles some with Sophie and some without. I am thinking of creating a triptych with a long shot of the entire setting in the middle and two smaller, detailed images.
I was excited for the process and happy with the results, but after putting the image on the discussion board, I get really sad and anxious. It’s a lot of social pressure and I would like my work to be liked. I am working on this issue– as in finding ways to support myself and my work without getting external feedback.

Claesz, P (1643). Turkey Pie.
Sophie and the banquet

Critique of the image, above: What went well– I was very pleased with the overall look of this image. I had set out to recreate Claesz’ The Turkey, with a twist– the elephant in the room is actually a chicken on the table. What I mean is that the meaning change when the cooked turkey becomes a live chicken. Is it surreal? I think so.

In my second image, Vee the rooster posted in a red-themed formal still-life. He was a very good chicken, but got into a crowing jag which was a bit loud. I am not entirely sure where I am going with this project yet. I don’t think I am The Chicken Portrait person, but it may appear that way from my images. This coming week, I will study the work of Paulette Tavormina for more inspiration.

Vee, red flowers, blood orange

14 February, 2020
Constructive criticism of this work, above:
Overall, these are interesting and well constructed images. The exposure is too dark, so some of the detail is lost. I am working on the puzzle of the correct amount of light. I am concerned that, if I turn up my stationary light that I will blow out the whites and the shadows. What I have found, though, is that I consistently under-estimate the recorded light- I look through my lens and it appears that I have more than I actually do.
Lighting: The desired effect was to mimic the Dutch 17th century still-life: Deep shadows and marked contrast supporting the sense of dimensional. This appears to be successful. I have noted that, in works like Claesz, the shadows are deep, but not black.
Composition: Successful as the placement of the teapot, the knife and the chicken form a triangle which keeps the eye moving. In addition, the bread color, the lemon and the chicken are similar.
Next time: I will crank up the light to see if I can get good results with a better exposure curve.

15 February, 2020
I have been designing a few different scenes in my head over the last few days to shoot over this weekend. I will be styling the images in the manner of Peiter Claesz’, but will not be using any particular image as a reference. I picked up a few items at a charity shop last night to utilize as props, and bought a truck-load of fresh fruit. The good thing about this project is we get to eat the leftovers.
There is too much ambient light to shoot indoors during the day, so I will style today and shoot tonight.

Pawn shop violin.
Prussian cocoa pot.

I had planned to use three small, identical hens for this image. I placed the props to create a classic triangle, where the vase with flowers is at the top, the copper container to the left and the three hens to the right. The three hens were not interested in a photo shoot, and after a long week we were not interested in convincing them. Instead, we went with our two friendliest and most easygoing chickens, Vee and Sophie. They do not appear to be bothered by the photo shoot, and they receive a grain reward when the shoot is over.
I feel that both of these images are successful. The images are balanced, visually, through the strong compositional triangle. The violin neck on the right forms a boundary and pulls the eye back to the main subject. While Sophie stares admonishingly at the viewer, Vee is off in his world of making music. I am not sure which version I prefer. The image with Vee is more open and there are contextual elements which provide the viewer with information about the scene. It’s easier to recognize that the piano is in a home, for example.

Critique of these images, above: The styling worked really well– the colors of the flowers, copper pot and chickens are very complementary. The composition is the classical triangle which allows the eye to move around the image. The piano glows, and the lighting angle is perfect. Really happy with these. What could I improve? While the image is really cool, I do have to ask myself if I achieved my objective: Does this promote the idea of being alive? I am not sure, and people have assumed that the chickens are stuffed. Will think about that…

17 February, 2020

Still life with oyster basket
Lars Drakkelsen and the picnic

Styling this set took more than an hour: preparing the food, hanging the drape and taking sample images. I am amazed at how the scene changes when I look through an iphone camera versus what I see with my eyes. I employed the classic composition triangle, elevating the vase in the back to form the top of the triangle, and balancing the composition with the light colored fruit bowl and the colorful fruit. I folded the rug to create a path for the eye to the flowers. I used a blood orange to create a fruit spiral with the intention that the color may inspire questions regarding the future of the duck.

Critique of the work, above: Composition rocks, and the colors are gorgeous. I am wondering, what the greater message is here. As my son asked ‘why duck in basket”?

19 February 2020:
I am intrigued by the work “Quince, cabbage, melon and cucumber of Spanish painter Juan Sanchez Cotan. His work is known for his realism, though I find the idea of dangling produce improbable and a bit surrealistic. Having an indoor window which somewhat resembles the one he used to internally frame this work, I attempted to emulate his work.

Cotan, J. (1602). Quince, cabbage, melon and cucumber.
Eilertsen, A. 2020. Pear, pepper, grapefruit, lemon, melon and grapes.

Critique of this work: I was not happy with the lighting and positioned my light in various places in a 160 degree arc. I think that working with a light background (with the dark grid) was radically different and more difficult than working with a solid black background. When I looked through my images, I laughed because of the resemblance to a primary school science fair project failure. The window is quite large and the props get lost in the space. Interestingly, I received the most positive feedback on this image. It is a bit surreal, and, as a group member put it– resembles the old 8 bit video games. It’s so helpful to receive feedback as it helps me to find possibilities and direction.

21 February 2020
I had an unofficial 1:1 with our course leader today to talk about my project direction. I have enjoyed creating these memento vivere and have been pleased by the lighting effects and structure of the work. However, I wonder where am I going next? After receiving positive feedback on the image which I had felt was a mistake, I have wondered if I could incorporate more experimental and less traditional styling. I am glad to learn that my WIP can contain sets of images (sounds like a minimum of 6 per set) as I can look forward to creating something related by different. I have four solid images for the first set and am hoping to create an additional one today.

23 February 2020
I worked on a new version of Cotan’s quince/cabbage/melon/cucumber last night in hopes to create a tighter image which is more in proportion than my experiment with the chicken, above. I created a set outside in an open bay of the garage so that I could include the geese. My objective was to capture the flock of six geese decimating the fruit. They moved in very quickly and snatched the watermelon slice and the whole cucumber — I struggled to get a shot as my husband attempted to wrestle the props away from the geese and return them to the stage. The stage was a bit of a stretch for the geese, therefore I wasn’t able to get as much neck and body as I had hoped.

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Grapefruit, grapes, melon, cucumber and goose.
Behind the scenes : Anton with an accusing look.
Hanging grapes swing when nibbled.

What went well– I was able to recreate the scene with fidelity. The relationship between the fruit size and the window opening was more in proportion to my previous efforts with the indoor window. The placement of the fruit was also very similar to the original which will assist the consumer to relate this image to the still life painting of the 17th century. What could be improved: The shadows may be too strongly black- I will try to fix this in post. The set was too high and very little of the goose was visible. This may make the image a bit more difficult to unpack. The image quality is limited as it is grainy and underexposed. I will experiment with adding a second light at a lower sitting at approximately 45 degrees to the first to catch more of the subject.

29 February 2020

I am aiming to create 6 reasonably interesting and technically fine memento mori/vanitas images for my first series. I will create another 6 images of a different style– most likely surrealism. The image which I created tonight (image 5/6 of series 1) is modeled after the painting at the top of this page called Vanitas by Jan Davidz de Heem, from 1630. I swapped the straw adorned skull with a small hen whose markings remind me of a skull. I bent a single piece of straw in recognition to de Heem’ “crown of thorns” reference. It seems to me that de Heem warned the viewer of the hazards of money (gambling?) and drink. The tattered book in his work appears to be a small, well-worn and perhaps neglected Bible. In my work, the hen is alive and the flowers are past their prime. The message changes: remember that you are living right now.

Eilertsen, A. (2020) Remember that you are alive.

3 March 2020

Image 6/6, series 1. I worked with a new concept this past weekend where I explored the work of Alexander Isadore Leroy DeBarde. He is a French artist who worked in England in the 18th centure. A work called “birds”, displayed in the Louvre, depicts a bird collection in a display cabinet.

DeBarde, A.I.L. (1700). Birds.

I styled a scene which is meant to recall this work, replacing the owl with a live chicken. I am still working on cleaning up the image, and am displaying a draft below:

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Birds on book shelf.

7 March 2020
Nature morte: I am changing the subject of my project slightly– it may be a darker turn, or more provocative. The images which I created above were intended to demonstrate a spark, or memento vivere, in traditional still life. The momento mori and vanitas still life were meant to convey a warning against the excesses in life as through the inclusion of symbols signifying death. Going to hell for a badly-lived life was a high price to pay. The feedback I received regarding my images was that the animals looked like they were not alive, rather, like they were stuffed. I can understand that as the images represent a moment in time, and an immobile animal would be perceived as dead. Susan Sontag, in On Photography states “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
In the next six images I am going to utilize the same cellar lighting, fresh flowers and other stylized elements of the nature morte. I aim to convey a more complex relationship of the predatory human and the vulnerable bird.

My over-arching theme of my work in this MA has been that of willful blindness, of denying a truth because acknowledging it could create an existential threat to the psyche. It strikes me that people can love ducks, rescue ducks from storm sewers, or coo as a mama duck and babies swim by — and buy and eat a roasted duck. How can humans entertain both thoughts: Ducks are so precious AND I want to eat a duck? Is this a demonstration of willful blindness?

Eilertsen, A. (2020) Scissors.

This is the first image of the second series. I styled this shot with an emphasis on the color blue. The chicken featured, Phyllis, is a Bantam Silky and has hair-like feathers, black skin, blue cheeks and legs. The effect which I desire is that the viewer interprets that the hair products are being applied to the chicken. I have included two symbols of death: The scissors on the table, and the snuffed candle. I was surprised that this image worked so well– the lighting, composition and content are complementary. What could be better: there is a lighter area around the scissors which I will tone down in the final image.

8 March 2020

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Gerbera daisy.

Second image (2/6) of the second set of images, meant to be more challenging and surreal. The duck in the fridge is a sign that the duck could be meant as a meal. The duck has a prominent beak color, so I used a similar color as a compliment throughout the image (orange). Green and white were the base colors, giving a cleaner look to the image. The brightly colored and almost comical daisy adds to the surreal feeling of this image. Achieving the “cellar lighting” used in the Dutch still life was a challenge because of the white interior of the fridge. I turned the fridge off to prevent the interior light from coming on. Of note, the duck did leave a large amount of droppings.

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Shells.

Second set of images, third image. The placement of the duck in the toilet symbolizes the practice of flushing goldfish down the toilet. Aesthetically, the toilet is the same shape as a large Roman vase, and the flowers placed next to the bowl capitalize on this allusion. The toilet is also referred to as “the throne”– which demonstrates the idea that we can both love these animals and toss them away. NOTE: Toilet had been cleaned, then emptied of water. The duck is standing on two folded towels.

9 March 2020

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Lemon and rosemary.

The images above and below (third and forth out of six) make use of food preparation as a symbol of impending danger for the fowl. The one above recalls the formal composition and lighting of a nature morte image. The salt and pepper, lemon and rosemary and presence of the knife are clues about the future of the chicken. The image below is less formal, but more visually obvious. The chicken is standing on a recipe book which is open to the directions for roast chicken.

10 March 2020

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Mandarin orange.

15 March 2020

Eilertsen, A. (2020). Icarus.

This is the final image of the second series. This image demonstrates the most obvious peril for the animal– it is falling from the sky. I am hoping to provoke a feeling of concern for the rooster. I don’t know if this will translate into a thought provoking exercise about the strained relationship humans have with poultry– that we want to cuddle with them, but are also fine with eating them.

But it’s mitigated by the bed of flowers in which the bird will land. I choose to create a surreal image to ensure that the message remains light-hearted. This image was taken up-side down: the flowers are dangling from cardboard. The chicken was placed on his back which causes the chicken to become hypnotized, briefly.

NOTE ON POULTRY HANDLING: I constructed the scenes with safety and comfort in mind for the animal. These all are well loved: They have names, bear-proof homes and more than an acre is fenced for them in which to free-range. My husband selected and cuddled with the animals, carefully placing them into the scene only after they were calm. It’s not visible, but my husband acted as the handler throughout and watched the animal’s reaction and stress level. These shots were taken over a period of seconds to minimize the animal’s stress.


Petry, M., 2013. Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still-life Tradition. Thames & Hudson.
Sontag, S. (1978). On Photography.

Between terms: winter

Portfolio review with Amy Toensing

26 December 2019

I entered an image into a juror show at a Gallery in Vermont, called The PhotoPlace Gallery. It’s located in Middlebury, which is home to a well-known liberal arts college. I received the Juror’s Award for my work, 1957, which included a portfolio review with the Juror. Amy Toensing, the Juror, is a regular contributor to National Geographic and well known photojournalist. She asked me to prepare 30-40 images to review:

39 Photos for portfolio review

Amy Toensing was very generous with her time and spent over an hour chatting about my work. What I understood:

  • The work that stands out to her most is my tableau. As I am successful in creating a story. See images 22-24.
  • My portraits and street work demonstrate that I can use a camera well, but aren’t as compelling.

I wasn’t sure how a portfolio review would be helpful – in general- because the advice and opinion is only of one person with a single perspective. However, I found this conversation extremely valuable . Firstly, I felt that my work was appreciated– as in that there was thought put into viewing it,- secondly that Amy was candid in her comments–and lastly that I realized that my greatest discomfort may be my area of greatest strength. In creating the tableau, I have felt like I have to cajole participants into posing, that i have to have a story clearly in mind my and that my stories have not really been “pretty”. I have been told many times that my tableau work is weird and dark. If I create more tableau, I will have to make peace with these outside observations and just do me. I complained that doing this work is hard, and Amy said– well, photography is hard. That’s the best piece of advice I have had about my work.

12 January 2020

Term 1 , 2020: Still Life , momento mori and vanitas.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia Vanitas was the writing each of these artwork carried, reminding the viewers of the transience and brevity of human life, power, beauty and wealth, as well as of the insignificance of all material things and achievements. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, the profound philosophic message, led the paintings to ooze in symbolism and to depict allegorical compositions in which every element had a deeper, hidden meaning. Through this particular kind of narrative, these works warn about the irrelevance of all the beautiful, earthly pleasures, and provide us with a certain kind of unique aesthetics that many contemporary still life photographers picked up o

Wide Walls: Still Life Photographers who give a fresh meaning to vanitas.

Selected references for vanitas

Fruit Paintings to contemplate the transience of life

Pieter Claesz: Dutch Master 1600s

Dan Bannino: Pop-Baroque/Pop Renaissance photographer

Taryn Simon: Paperwork and the will of capital

Sharon Core: 1606-1907

Ori Gersht: Big bang

Paulette Tavormina : Natura Morte

Mat Collishaw: Last meal on Death Row, Texas

Old Master’s Painting technique: Video of the creation of a still life in the style of the Old Masters

19 January 2020. How to choose a project for this term: While many students come into this program with specific ideas of what they want to feature in their images, I did not. My goals for myself in this program including broadening my understanding of the photographic image and current culture; improving my technique to enable me to get the best out of a situation; to improve my photo shop and post production skills all so that when I decide on what I would like to concentrate my efforts on, I am able to do so in a successful manner. Not having a particular subject is a bit frustrating and freeing… and I feel like I am taking the risk that my subject may be considered weird or disconcerting, or unrelatable. I guess my response would be “oh well”… not everyone is going to “get” what I am doing.

For this term, I would like to explore veritas and momento mori still life images, with a modern take. I have found the artists above to which I will be referring. I like the Dutch Master’s work from the 17th century in that the lighting is soft, low angle and at once enlivens and flattens the images. I am brainstorming variations: Modern foods, convenience foods, live animals vs dead plus flowers; Live animals but plastic flowers; a selection of foods from grocery stores in wealthy and in poorer areas; monochrome flower/live chickens… more to come.

Photoshop: While preparing for this coming term, I have been focused on having a bit more fun with my work– and trying to learn photo shop for learning’s sake. I do best by learning hands-on, so I have been plowing through images and learning from my mistakes. What I think I know so far: layers, adjusting, erasing, changing opacity and denisity, combining images, adding effects. I would like to figure out the best way to use a magic lasso– or any kind. I will look for some you tube tutorials.

Kore: Last spring, I took a series of pictures of my niece dressed up like a sprite in forest near her home in Sweden. I had written the plot of a children’s book which I intended to illustrate with these images, however, I knew at the time that I had no idea what I was doing. I have been experimenting with them now, and am pleased with my progress, although I recognize that I will probably need to revise as my skill with image manipulation increases.

I also have been placing images together just for learning sake, using my own images, stock and images from the Rijksmuseum collection which are free to download and use.

Week 0: Human Choices

30 December, 2019
Week 0
Human Choices: reflection

Reflection on the intent of my practice and the ‘human choices’ that I have made to visually convey my ideas: I don’t yet have a practice, per se, rather I am practicing. My intention is to experiment, build my skills so that when I work on my FMP, I can create quality images with purpose.
I have had two projects so far, both related to the theme of willful blindness, and both could be considered to fall into the category of tableau. Willful blindness is a term which addresses the human tendency to ignore the painful/challenging issues. I have chosen to approach image-making from an experimental point of view, grounding my work in concepts. For example in my first term, I worked with people to create tableau to depict situation which demonstrate the concept of willful blindness. Central to my theme was childhood adverse events, so I chose a few common scenes- like the beach, or a family dinner, then placed the characters in attitudes depicting feelings of discomfort. I chose to work with family members because they were present and support my work.

The following images were my most successful of this bunch. The image which I made last is the top left- and it’s most successful: I think that my improved lighting skills created more depth in this photo. The composition is interesting in that the older woman is balanced by the very green foliage outside of the door. I believe that the photograph in front of her face adds to the strangeness of the picture as it makes her appear to be giraffe- like, however, it also seems like she is hiding behind a picture of her youth. This image won the Juror’s prize in a photo show called “women’s work”.

The next two images were not as successful, and I think it’s primarily because of the way the message is delivered: Both images depict a significant event, but because of the choices I made (to depict a man drowning/not drowning; or a table on fire) these might feel a bit too self-aware and gimmicky.

My second term I worked in macro with miniature figures. The theme was the hubris of the American government and the innocence of the American people during the era of atmospheric atomic testing. I chose this project as atomic atmospheric testing led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans. I am a nurse and this is a public health disaster– It’s my protest against the danger of ignorance.

I learned a lot on the way to creating this work. My strengths were accepting feedback, perseverance, curiosity and repeated experimentation. My opportunities for growth include using more relate-able material? Although I don’t know if that is a weakness, I just have to accept that very few people relate to this work. Another opportunity is to have created images with a broader tone.

What I could have improved in the image above: Honestly, I found this image funny. Miss Atomic Bomb, pictured here in front of an atomic test at Bikini atoll, is surreal and suits the craziness that is atomic testing. It reminds me of a 1980s punk postcard. The figure of the woman is too large for the scene, I could have matched the blues of the foreground with the background. There’s too much reflection and the subject is hard to understand unless one has knowledge of the testing program.

Resources: Two practitioners inspired my work in term one and term two.

Gregory Crewdson
  • Gregory Crewdson:
    1. The Guardian, 2016 on Crewdson’s work, Cathedral of the Pines: “One great thing about photography is that it kind of hovers between everything. It’s really easy to reach out to other mediums and have connections between things,” says Gregory Crewdson. The Guardian review states that his images are “hard to decipher individually, but cumulatively threaded together…”. Comments– This is more of a promotion than a critique.
      Maroz, S. (2016). The Guardian. Art and Design, Photography.
    2. Roberta Smith from the New York Times reviewing Crewdson’s Beneath the Roses exhibition: “Some details suggest horror movie kitsch, like the filthy pink telephone in a hotel room where an older woman stands naked in the bathroom. The blood dripping down her thigh pushes the narrative toward overload: is she sick or not as menopausal as she thought? Has she checked into a room where something horrible has happened and might happen again or was the maid in a rush?” The reviewer goes on to say that Crewdson’s work as a whole seems overly academic, the characters lack emotional depth and that he might do better just reverting to taking images on the street. The reviewer also mentions that Crewdson’s images have become stage craft, rather than art. I think that the debate can become “what is art”? To me this all indicates that the danger of the cinematic tableau may be over playing the scene and characters.
      Smith, R. (2005) The New York Times. Section E, p 36.
    3. On Crewdson’s depiction of suburbia and the mass production of homes: “Crewdson invites the viewer to vicariously participate in the scene”, an effort that may fall short of true understanding of the characters experience, but rather, gains insight into the experience of living in suburbia. Perhaps this is more of an explanation than a critique. I see my world- the one i grew up in, in Crewdson’s work. Suburbia with the banal cookie-cutter homes, the bland aspirations, the post-war hope. I relate to this- and the feelings of abject disillusionment.
      Archer, J., 2009. Representing Suburbia: From Little Boxes to Everyday Practices. Representations of Suburbia. Hempstead, NY, Hofstra University.
Lori Nix – Control room (miniature)
  • Lori Nix:
    1. “Each scene is so lavishly detailed down to wood grain and stained walls that I thought she simply set-dressed existing locations rather than create the world exactly as she wished it to be. After disbelief came relief; I was glad these locations didn’t exist, that they weren’t actually the result of some current natural or man-made disaster..”. The author of this review talks about the surreal and convincing worlds of Lori Nix, who creates small- scale models which she then photographs. The reviewer goes on to reflect on his disappointment that the photographic images revealed too much detail and it was noticeable that Lori Nix was creating small sets. To me, her work is remarkable and wholly different from any other practitioner. The fact that she photographs her work seems secondary.
      James, D. (2011) New City Art. Review: Lori Nix/Catherine Edelman Gallery.
    2. “…And then 9/11, transforming the city and the United States forever.  The days immediately following 9/11 were notable for the strong camaraderie among Americans, a feeling that we were one family; this feeling is entirely extinct now. Post-apocalyptic visions are nothing new of course, but our collective witnessing of a horrifying spectacle has perhaps snuffed the possibility of utopic visions of the city and now it is a commonplace for artists to create elaborate visions of a post-human landscape, such as these miniature dioramas by Lori Nix or these neo-Tower of Babels created by the Chinese artist Du Zhenjung.  Nix and Zhenjung are among legions of contemporary artists whose dystopian or post-apocalyptic work is no longer just some futuristic romantic fantasy. They are imagining the city, as it might be very soon, destroyed in one blow, or decaying on its unsteady foundations.
      I disagree with this reviewer about the reason for the worlds which Lori Nix creates. I would not assume that her work is dystopian, rather I think she demonstrates awareness of a decline of utopia, perhaps lifting a veil on the pretense of utopia post-war America.
      Durant, M. A. (2013). Saint Lucy. Picturing the City.

Where I am going next?

Dan Bannino

First idea: create still life informed by the style of the 17th Century Dutch masters, such as Pieter Claesz. I have been intrigued by the chiaroscuro prominent in these works, and have a particular interest in momento mori, however, may have a modern take which focuses on living in the moment. In the example below, I am juxtapositing the live duck with the photoshopped background to invite the viewer to question what is real and what is not “real”. Frequently there are dead animals on display in momento mori, and I would like to see what it would be like to have live animals — and create momento vivi– which could mean “remember that you are currently living. Please see my post “Between Terms” for further explanation.

Second idea: Mindfulness of the quotidian. Continue to pursue work I did regarding the theme of the “every day” object. Not necessary banal, more like really noticing the quirky things that I pass on a daily basis. My intention is to say “here is this, right now” as a form of meditation. These are images taken in my own home that I just really didn’t give much attention to in the past. I work long hours, I am studying, I am busy, like everyone else. But aren’t these little a real part of my life?

Thirdly, I have been building a 6 hole pinhole camera which will take 120 film. I have to assemble the thing, but I think it could be very interesting to explore the world through this simple, but effective photographic instrument. The positives would be the opportunity to solve the problem of how to create this thing, how to take proper pictures, then how to capitalize on the instrument’s strengths in an interesting way.

Alternative processes: cyanotype

November 11, 2019: I had hoped to use cyanotype as a background for the gum bichromate process. I am looking for the flat, painterly quality that the combination creates. These processes are labor intensive and depend on UV exposure as a fixing process. As I live at about 45 degrees in latitude, sunlight is not reliable during the fall and winter months, I am using a very old (1960s) single-bulb sunlamp which I clamped to the rafters above my clothes washer in the basement. If the sunlamp works, then I can work on cyantype or bichromate at any time.

The power of the tanning lamp. Foil covers the outside of the lamp to protect my eyes from exposure.

The sunlamp DID work and I am pleased. I purchased cyanotype chemicals on Amazan, and the two component parts are now mixed and in light proof containers in the basedment. I am using high quality water color paper (hot pressed 140lb). I don’t know why this happened, but I seemed to get some pooling of the chemicals on each of the sheets which created big blotches. I don’t know if I added too much fluid but suspect that this was the problem. These were just experiments, and I will try to prepare the other sheets more carefully.

Rinsing the print. The UV light fixes the cyanotype mixture to the paper. The remainder of the non-exposed areas become light after rinsing.

My first efforts were under exposed. I added an additional 30% to the time and I think that these results are much better. I do wish that I could get rid of the haze that the overhead plastic leaves on the image. I may need to purchase some of the more expensive “negative” material designed for this purpose.

Close up of a panel I created for the CityID Brief. It’s a sample and I was going for a blueprint look.

The best of times.

October 28, 2019: Received a shipment of HO Scale train layout figurines today which I had ordered from ebay. I think I now have a concept that will work. I am going to juxtapose the perky little 1950s figures against nuclear testing backgrounds. Make American Great Again has been a call repeated over and over here in the USA in the past few years. The question is, when was America Great? I think that many people think America was great in the period of increased middle class and baby boom in the time following the end of WWII. Yet during this time, the USA was engaged in a very dangerous cold war and the risk and threat of nuclear strike was high. I grew up during the Cold War and believed that nuclear destruction was a distinct possibility. The hubris governments had, especially during the US was staggering. The nuclear test were carried out with only rudimentary knowledge of the dangers of nuclear blasts. I would like to demonstrate that the USA wasn’t the great country people thought in the 1950s.

October 30th, 2019: I am pleased with the result of my experimental work using the nuclear testing-related images and HO scale figures to create a juxtaposition of real/unreal. This photo, like most of the Theolgieon/little theater pictures, took over an hour to set up and shoot. I experiment with the lighting, gels and position of the characters to get a result I like.

Waiting for the end of the world.
Rockwell, Norman. (1955). Home for the holidays.

November 3, 2019: In 2016, The New York Times published an article which explored the question of “what year was America great”. Two research groups polled thousands of Americans and the results of the poll were analyzed according to the respondent’s self-identification with a political party. Interestingly, Trump supporters indicated two different years in which America was great: 2000 and 1955. Sample reasons for choosing these years were “strong family values” and “life was simpler”. As I am a Generation Xer (or late Baby Boomer), I grew up under the influence of the “family values” of the 1950s. Therefore, I am focusing on life in 1955 America for this project.

Nuclear testing in South Pacific. High five!

Critical research

This page is dedicated to displaying a collection of quotes and notes relevant to my current practice, Theologeion. I consider this a working draft which will help to inform my oral presentation. I am critically locating my practice after I have established my practice. As I mentioned in another post, this feels a bit like I am working backwards: justifying a project after the project has launched. From a research perspective, it’s best to create a hypothesis before creating the intervention. But in photography, one might pursue a project because it’s interesting, but ultimately, the work we create arises from our experiences and feelings. So it’s perhaps fair to do first and ask why later?

In talking about photographers, Susan Sontag states that “a doubt persists about the value of realism which keeps them oscillating between simplicity and irony, between insisting on control and cultivating the unexpected…” location 1481. Sontag goes on to say that the “cult of faster…alternates with a wish to return to a more artisanal, purer past when images when images still had a handmade quality or aura.” location 1463.

Sontag, S. On Photography